Street approaching slopes again, with one eye on snow, one on TV

Antsy champion questions her emotions after rehab

October 10, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Picabo Street blew through Baltimore the same way she has competed during her 28 years: all out, don't look back, go for the gold.

She was here to promote the Maryland Science Center's new IMAX film, a chronicle of the 1998 Winter Olympics. That's where Street won the super-giant slalom. She is alternately inspired and frustrated by the film, because she hasn't been on skis in 19 months.

Less than a month after she won a gold medal in Nagano, Japan, Street suffered a career-threatening injury. A year and a half of what would exhaust most everyone else -- but what amounts to inactivity for her -- has been an ordeal.

"I'm grinding my teeth," Street said. "I've got a big, fat chip off of one tooth. I'm grinding my teeth in my sleep. I'm having some very vivid, very aggressive, very athletic dreams."

Street envisions earning another Olympic berth, even though her career was sidetracked in Switzerland on the final downhill run of the 1998 World Cup season. Coming out of a high-speed spill and unable to get parallel to a fence, she crashed into it tips first.

Her left femur broke, and she went into shock from the pain of that, plus caused serious damage to her right knee.

The next World Cup season opens Nov. 17, and Street will take advantage of the free ski to test the progress of her rehabilitation.

"I definitely have some hesitancy," Street said Thursday, a year to the day after she had the anterior-cruciate ligament in her right knee surgically reconstructed. "Physically, I'm strong enough. Mentally, I'm capable. But am I ready to handle it emotionally?"

Street has been down this hill before. She was off skis for seven months after a December 1996 crash rehabilitating her left knee. And a week after a concussion, she ruled the Nagano Olympics in an event that wasn't her specialty.

Has Street considered retirement and turning to a burgeoning TV career?

"About 25 percent of me right now says that," Street said. "[TV] is very fruitful right now. NBC has an open seat for me."

Want to explore kite skiing, or off-road buggy racing? Check out "Danger Zone," which recently debuted on the Outdoors satellite cable channel. Street's the host. She has a bigger platform as an NBC analyst and doesn't sound afraid to confront the corruption that is tarnishing the International Olympic Committee.

"I expect the Olympics to be kept real," Street said. "There's no room for gray area, which creates dishonesty. The dishonesty creates disruption, the disruption creates failure, and then we're in a negative spiral. We've got to get the focus back on the athletes. Without us, what do you have?"

Street had few female athletes as role models when she was a girl hanging out with the boys in Triumph, Idaho. She remembers leafing through her mother's high school yearbook and seeing no girls' teams. Conversely, Street has reveled in the champions of 1999, from the U.S. women's World Cup soccer team to Serena Williams.

"I don't know what my life would be like without athletics," Street said. "I would be like a caged animal, pacing back and forth. Maybe I would be a singer. A lot of women athletes like to express themselves."

Pub Date: 10/10/99

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